Hastings & Bexhill Rugby Club stormed to victory in the Sussex Shield final on Saturday.
Every member of the squad played at the very top of their game as Kent One champions H&B triumphed 25-8 in a hard-fought and gruelling match against Sussex One side Burgess Hill.
The shield final was the first game of the Sussex knockout finals’ day at East Grinstead RFC, and both teams provided the shirt-sleeved crowd with an exhibition of open, fast and skilful rugby.
The first 30 minutes were very even. There were crunching tackles, huge clearances and dazzling runs from both sets of players.
H&B took the lead with a try from Steve McManus. Chaz Ackerley made a decisive break and passed the ball to Jake Stinson, who fed McManus occupying space out on the left wing. The prop completed the move with ease, going over in the corner.
Burgess Hill were reduced to 14 men when hooker Ben Dewey was sin-binned for overly aggressive play. Despite being a man down, ‘the Sussex All Blacks’ equalised with a try in the corner just before half time.
Five minutes into the second half, H&B coach Chris Brooks made the first of his substitutions. Ben Campbell gave way to the season’s top tryscorer Tim Sills and Eliot Parry replaced Kit Claughton, who was making his last appearance for the club.
Ackerley scored the first of his two tries when centre Tom Waring broke through the Burgess Hill defence and fed the ball inside for Ackerley to cross the line. Steadman converted to give H&B a 12-5 lead.
Burgess Hill reduced their deficit with a penalty awarded for offside only for Bruce Steadman to restore H&B’s seven-point advantage with a beautifully struck penalty from more than 40 metres out. Steadman’s improvement as a goal kicker has been an integral part of the club’s success this season.
Midway through the half, John Hanagarth, who had played superbly at number eight, made way for Calvin Crosby-Clarke and Jacob McDonough replaced Tony Roche in the front row.
The H&B forwards were in the ascendancy; they were winning more ball and setting the backs into action. Tim Sills received the ball from the base of the scrum and burst through to put Stinson away for a well-worked try.
From the restart H&B were immediately on the attack. Harry Walker surged towards the line, but was held up by the frantic Burgess Hill defence. Walker was injured in the process and had to be helped from the pitch, with Adam Baker coming on in his place.
From the ensuing scrum, Ackerley was fed the ball and found himself in space before crossing the line to seal the victory.
Nick Van Herpen and Jack James came on as late substitutes for Steve and Frazer McManus.
The win capped a great season for the blue and whites; league champions and a cup final success in two separate counties - surely a rarely accomplished feat.
Club president Roy Wake was ecstatic with praise for this team, several of whom had started their careers playing in junior sides coached by him. Of the 22 players used in the final, 15 had begun playing in the minis section.
H&B: Roche, Umpleby, S. McManus, Adams (c), Piotrowski, F. McManus, Stern, Hanagarth, Steadman, Claughton, Campbell, Ackerley, Waring, Stinson, Walker, Sills, Parry, McDonough, Van Herpen, Crosby-Clarke, James, Baker.